I feel smarter already.
My east coast road trip continued in Cambridge, Massachusetts where I interviewed multi-faceted rock legend Al Kooper, who performed live and also recorded with Johnnie Johnson. Kooper IS rock and roll history. Regarding Johnnie Johnson, Kooper said, “Since “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll” the big guys all knew who he was. The problem was we didn’t know what had become of him, we didn’t know if he was even alive. But we all knew who he was and talked about him in interviews. I’ll never forget him. I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it wasn’t for him. And I miss him so much.”One thing Kooper and I have in common is documentary projects. Amazingly, Kooper is approaching 50 years in the music business and is working with filmmakers on a documentary about his storied career. There’s a lot of Kooper history to tell. Born in New York, Al Kooper is one of the great keyboardists of 1960’s rock. Kooper also plays guitar, sings and is a songwriter. After forming a doo woo group in the 1950’s, Kooper went on to write a No. 1 song for Gary Lewis and the Playboys (“This Diamond Ring”) in 1964. Subsequently, as a guitarist, Kooper attended Bob Dylan sessions in 1965 but was enlisted by Bob to play keyboard instead on “Like a Rolling Stone”, recording that immortal keyboard track. After touring with Dylan and also playing on “Blonde On Blonde”, Kooper joined the Blues Project, which released several albums, before he formed Blood, Sweat & Tears in 1967. Kooper left after one album, however, and became a studio musician. That’s when, in 1968-69, he met up with the Stones, where he contributed to “Beggars Banquet” and also played the immortal piano, organ and French horn parts on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. During this period, he also recorded with Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Taj Mahal and the Who. He went on to play with Stephen Stills and Mike Bloomfield and became a producer, working with Simon & Garfunkel and then discovering and producing Lynyrd Skynyrd in the 1970s. But he also continued recording and performing with artists in the 1970s and beyond, notably with Bob Dylan again, Bill Wyman, Alice Cooper, Nils Lofgren, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. Like I said, Al Kooper is rock and roll history and even though he says it doesn’t matter to him, it’s a joke that he’s not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.Yesterday I was in Woodstock, New York to interview Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member John Sebastian. What a cool place Woodstock is, with beautiful streams running through the town, which is best known for the seminal 1969 music festival. Sebastian drove by my motel and I followed him back to his five acre wooded property. Before setting up for the interview we walked his property with his two dogs, chatting about music and family. Sebastian has two sons, one a musician, the other training to rescue mountain climbers.Sebastian told one of the best stories I could ever hope to use in the documentary. In 2000, shortly after Sebastian was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of the Lovin Spoonful, he shipped his hall of fame trophy to St. Louis to Johnnie Johnson, because he thought it was an injustice that Johnson hadn’t long ago been inducted. My question to Sebastian: the hall of fame is an “all about me” moment. Why was he thinking about sending his hall of fame statuette to Johnnie Johnson?”He’s our architect, so it was odd that he wouldn’t have one (hall of fame statuette). He took it in the best possible spirit. He put it on his mantel and Frances said frequently that he really enjoyed having this thing on his mantel. I was thrilled that my rock and roll hall of fame statuette got to sit on Johnnie Johnson’s mantel for awhile. “John Sebastian has had a multi-faceted career as a singer, songwriter, and musician. As the leader of the folk-rock band the Lovin’ Spoonful, he was responsible for a string of Top Ten hits in 1965-1967 that included the chart-toppers “Daydream” and “Summer in the City,” and he returned to number one in 1976 as a solo artist with “Welcome Back.” He wrote or co-wrote those hits as well as many others, along with songs used on Broadway and in the movies. And as an instrumentalist, primarily playing harmonica, he has accompanied a wide range of artists including Judy Collins, Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Doors, Bob Dylan, the Everly Brothers, Art Garfunkel, Gordon Lightfoot, Laura Nyro, Graham Parker, Dolly Parton, Peter, Paul & Mary, John Prine, and Bonnie Raitt.John was a great host, taking me to lunch in downtown Woodstock. His comments about Johnnie are much appreciated.I watched tape of Monday’s interview with Eric Clapton. He was so ready to talk about Johnnie and how much he enjoyed knowing him and performing with him. Clapton’s first performance with Johnnie was in St. Louis during the “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll concerts. “I couldn’t wait to hear him play. All through the rehearsals there were little glimpses of it. It was another opportunity for me to say, this is where it began. This is what it’s all about. The first things that pulled me through from being a frustrated and confused little kid was hearing things like “Memphis”, “Sweet Little Rock and Roller”, and “Carol”. Those songs would transport me to a kind of fantasy land the minute I heard them. I’d be taken out of whatever was going on in my life. It made me happy. So the great thing about “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘N’ Roll” was to be able to let those guys know, Chuck and Johnnie, that they kind of saved my life. I was there in a hurry because I wanted to pay back what they had given me.”A road trip that began with interviewing Eric Clapton in New York City, ends with John Sebastian in Woodstock and Al Kooper in suburban Boston. I can’t fully express my gratitude to these wonderful musicians who’ve each left their own significant marks on the music industry. Thanks also go to interviewees Jeff Alexander, who produced Johnnie final cd “Johnnie Be Eighty and Still Bad”; Joe Colluci a New York attorney and musician who was inspired by Johnnie; and David Bennett Cohen, former member of Country Joe and the Fish and the host of an instructional dvd showcasing Johnnie’s piano playing. Thanks to all of you. It was one hell of a road trip and the material for “Johnnie Be Good” just keeps getting stronger.The journey continues…… Art HollidayDirector, JOHNNIE BE GOOD
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